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Top Story

Scent brings songbirds to the yard

Chickadees are interested in scents. That's the news from a study out of Lehigh University, the first to document naturally hybridizing songbirds' preference for the smell of their own species. The study examined hybridization -- when separate species come into contact and mate -- to better understand how species originate and how the existing, parent species are maintained. The research involved the black-capped chickadee and its relative, the Carolina chickadee. The team of scientists set out to test the potential for scent to act as a mate choice cue in the chickadees. They wondered whether smell might contribute to the reproductive isolation of black-capped and Carolina chickadees in a zone in Pennsylvania where birds are hybridizing. The researchers found that black-capped and Carolina chickadees produce chemically distinct oils used to maintain their feathers; the oils also contain scent-producing compounds. The researchers discovered that both chickadee species prefer the smell of their own species over the smell of the other species. Jodie Jawor, a program director in NSF’s Division of Integrative Organismal Biology, which funded the research, says, "There's still much to be learned about how animals communicate with one another. This work adds information to a unique and understudied communication dimension in birds."

Visit Website | Image credit: Lehigh University